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USA reports on Ghana Human Rights Abuses: Children

Young Bajan
2003-04-01 18:11:37

Country reports for 2002 on Human Rights Abuses. Hot off the press from the US State Department, announced yesterday by Colin Powell himself.

Nuff Respect, Young Bajan.

Ghana - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor - March 31, 2003


Within the limits of its resources, the Government was committed to protecting the rights and welfare of children. The Government spent between 2.5 percent and 3 percent of GNP on education, approximately 60 percent of which went toward basic education in 2001. Education was compulsory through primary and junior secondary school (the equivalent of grades 1 through 9); however, education was not free. In practice schools imposed fees of up to $50 (400,000 cedis) per term, and students also were required to purchase uniforms and books. In addition, teachers often withheld material during their regular lessons and asked students to pay additional fees for after-hours "tutoring" in those subjects as a way to supplement their incomes. In September 2001, the Ghana Education Service (GES) froze all fees charged by Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) items such as bedding and cutlery, which were not approved by the GES. These items must be listed in schools' prospectuses as items that parents must buy. All fees approved by the Council were to be paid by the Government.

Some children were unable to attend school because they needed to work to supplement their family's income (see Section 6.d.), they had to travel long distances to reach the school, or there was a lack of teachers, especially in more rural areas. Additionally children's attendance at school was not enforced regularly by government authorities, and parents rarely, if ever, were sanctioned for keeping their children out of school. The Government has taken some concrete steps to support education, including support of "informal" schools (NGO-sponsored schools that were not regulated by the Government and provide nontraditional education), and increased emphasis on assuring that students progressed from one school grade to another. According to UNICEF's "Situation Analysis of Children and Women in Ghana 2001," using Ministry of Education (MOE) data, 77.6 percent of eligible children were enrolled in primary school in 2000, with a ratio of 29 boys to 21 girls. According to MOE data for 1999-2000, 61.0 percent of students in the 12 to 14 year age range were enrolled in junior secondary school. The dropout rate was decreasing; however, the school enrollment rate also has dropped slightly and overall enrollment probably was even lower because of annual population growth. The 2000-2001 advancement rate from junior secondary to senior secondary school was 35 percent.

There was little or no discrimination against female children in education, but girls and women frequently dropped out of school due to societal or economic pressures. The Government actively campaigned for girls' education. There was a girls' education unit within the basic education division of the Ghana Educational Service. The Minister of State for Primary, Secondary, and Girl-Child Education was responsible for addressing gender-related issues in education. The percentage of girls enrolled in school continued to decrease. In September the Government estimated that girls' enrollment in primary school had decreased from 75 percent in 1992 to 71 percent in 2001. According to published estimates, at the primary and junior secondary level, male enrollment was between 3 and 10 percent higher than female enrollment, and the gap significantly was greater at the senior secondary school level. Some officials attributed the lower female enrollment to the fact that many girls marry early or become pregnant. Enrollment of women at the university level in 2001 was 29 percent.

There were frequent reports of teachers sexually assaulting their female students. The girls often were reluctant to report the attacks to their parents, and social pressure often prevented parents from going to the police and other authorities. In April 2001, a math tutor at Aburi Girl's Secondary School, Eastern Region, fled after being accused of assaulting at least 17 girls. Students reportedly told the school administration, including the headmistress, about the assaults, but they were rebuffed and no action was taken. During the year, the headmistress resigned and the teacher was dismissed.

WAJU and regular police units increasingly investigated and prosecuted sexual abuse of minors, and press reports of court cases ending in lengthy prison sentences became routine.

The Ghana National Commission on Children (GNCC), a policymaking and coordinating body established to improve the lives of children, provided the WAJU with office equipment. The GNCC also has administered training programs for law enforcement and judicial officials around the country to familiarize them with the Children's Act and other pertinent child labor legislation.

FGM was performed on girls primarily (see Section 5, Women).

Trokosi, also known as Fiashidi, was a religious practice involving a period of servitude lasting up to 3 years. It is found primarily among the ethnic Ewe group in the Volta Region. A virgin girl, sometimes under the age of 10, but often in her teens, is given by her family to work and be trained in traditional religion at a fetish shrine for a period lasting between several weeks and 3 years as a means of atonement for an allegedly heinous crime committed by a member of the girl's family. In exceptional cases, when a girl of suitable age or status is unavailable, a boy can be offered. The girl, who is known as a Trokosi or a Fiashidi, then becomes the property of the shrine god and the charge of the shrine priest for the duration of her stay. As a charge of the priest, the girl works in the shrine and undergoes instruction in the traditional indigenous religion. In the past, there were reports that the girls were the sexual property of the priests; however, while instances of abuse may occur on a case-by-case basis, there was no evidence that sexual or physical abuse was an ingrained or systematic part of the practice. Shrine priests generally were male, but may be female as well. The practice explicitly forbids a Trokosi or Fiashidi to engage in sexual activity or contact during her atonement period. Trokosi may or may not attend school. During the atonement period, most girls do not live in the shrines, which generally were little more than fenced-in huts with small courtyards; many remained with their families or stayed with members of the shrine living nearby. The girl's family must provide for the girl's needs during her stay, including food and clothing; however, in some cases families are unable to do so. After she has completed her service to the shrine, the girl's family completes their obligation by providing items, which may include drinks, cloth, money, and sometimes livestock, to the shrine for a final release ritual. After the release ritual, the girl returns to her family and resumes her life, without, in the vast majority of cases, any particular stigma attaching to her status as a former Trokosi shrine participant. Generally the women continued to associate themselves with the shrine, a voluntary association involving return visits for ceremonies. In many instances, when a Trokosi woman dies, years if not decades after she has completed her service and resumed her life in the village, her family was expected to replace her with another young girl, thus continuing the association of the family to the shrine from generation to generation. In very occasional cases, the family abandons the girl or cannot afford the cost of the final rites, in which case she may remain at the shrine indefinitely. She also may leave the shrine and return to her village; however, her family's reputation with the shrine, and possibly with the community, may be tarnished. Shrines rarely have more than 4 girls serving their atonements at any one time, and there were no more than 100 girls serving their atonement periods at Trokosi shrines throughout the Volta Region at year's end.

Trokosi shrines all follow these general practices; however, specific practices, such as the length of indoctrination, the exact nature of the ritual instruction, and the requirements for the release rites, varied from shrine to shrine and district to district.

The law bans ritual servitude in comprehensive legislation to protect women and children's rights. NGOs, such as International Needs, and government agencies, such as the CHRAJ, have been campaigning against Trokosi, for years. The practice has decreased in recent years because other belief systems have gained followers, and fetish priests who died have not been replaced. According to one local NGO, there were approximately 2,000 women or girls associated with Trokosi shrines, with a fraction actually living in the shrines; however, according to other international observers, there were no more than 100 girls serving at Trokosi shrines throughout the Volta Region.

Another traditional practice that violates the rights of children was forced childhood marriage, which is illegal. The GNCC was working with the CHRAJ to effect the prosecution of the chief of Mpeasem-Easuakyir, in the Central Region, who coerced a 14-year-old girl into marrying him after he abused and impregnated her. FIDA supported the efforts and emphasized that the marriage violated the Children's Act, which sets the marriageable age at 18, as well as the Criminal Code, which prohibits sex with a child under 16 years of age.

On August 11, WAJU arrested a couple in Akwatia, Ashanti Region, for forcing their 15 year-old daughter to marry a 60 year-old man. WAJU still was investigating the case at year's end.

On August 31, a 5-year-old girl was kidnaped from Assin Praso, Central Region, and sold for $500 (4 million cedis), reportedly to be used for "ritual" purposes. Four men were arrested. Investigations still were ongoing at year's end.

Child prostitution, although illegal, also existed. The Eastern regional branch of the Ghana Hairdressers and Beauticians Association announced that it offered free apprenticeships to 150 street girls in the Eastern Region to equip them with marketable skills.

There were reports that trafficking in children occurred, including children being sold into slavery either for forced labor or sexual exploitation (see Sections 6.c. and 6.f.).

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kofi webb
04-01 23:01